War Resisters Remain in Canada with No Regrets

ByABC News
November 18, 2005, 7:49 AM

NELSON, British Columbia, Nov. 19, 2005 — -- Nestled in the mountains of British Columbia, the tiny city of Nelson seems lost in time -- but amid the organic food, marijuana and easygoing attitudes is one of the Vietnam War's lingering wounds, freshly opened by a recent effort to build a monument to the Vietnam-era "war resisters" who live there.

An estimated 125,000 Americans fled to Canada in the 1960s and '70s to avoid the Vietnam War military draft, according to the American Veterans of Foreign Wars. About half returned to the United States when President Carter granted them amnesty in 1977.

But decades after fleeing the draft, many of those men still live north of the border -- including a sizable community in Nelson -- and say they still have no regrets about what they did.

Jeff Mock, an American who fled to Canada during Vietnam, does not call himself a draft dodger.

"I would say more I'm a war resister," says Mock, who now runs a tofu business in Nelson. "I firmly believe that wars will end when men refuse to fight."

Northwestern University professor John Hagan wrote a book about this largely anonymous group of former U.S. residents in Canada.

"This is the largest modern political out-migration from the United States," he says. "And it really stands out."

That is one reason some Nelson residents decided that, 30 years later, they were a group worth remembering with a large, bronze monument of a Canadian with outstretched arms greeting a man and a woman.

Townspeople and officials alike thought it was perfect -- until word trickled south across the border. The American Veterans of Foreign Wars was outraged.

Nelson Mayor Dave Elliot was flooded with hate mail.

"I got myself into big trouble by saying I think it's a good idea," Elliot said. "Yes, I do think it's a good idea."

The hate mail argued otherwise.

"This is nothing more than a slap in the face to me and all Americans," Elliot read from one of the letters. "These men are not heroes, but they are cowards."

Organizers decided not to build the monument. But the town will hold Canada's first-ever gathering of American war resisters next year. People here hope it will serve as a homecoming to a group of men who've spent the last three decades coming to grips with a decision that changed their lives forever.

Ernest Heckanin, an artist and writer, has now lived in Canada longer than he lived in the United States. He remains bitter about the country he left and has never gotten over the war he wouldn't fight in.

"I see Iraq as just a continuation of policy that began in Vietnam," Heckanin says.

Jim Holland left everything he knew back in Texas more than 30 years ago, and says he has "no regrets, absolutely not."

Holland adds that he is not a coward.

"When your own ethics dictate that you'd separate yourself from your friends and your family, that's not cowardice," he says. "That's standing up for what you believe in.

Nowadays, Holland says, "I'm very, very proud to be Canadian."

ABC News' Neal Karlinsky originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Nov. 13, 2005.